DIY Flash Diffuser - Airline Barf Bags - Digital Photography School
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DIY Flash Diffuser – Airline Barf Bags

The following post with an idea for a DIY Flash Diffuser is by Matthew G. Monroe from The Global Photographer

Barf-Bag-Flash-DiffuserCall me crazy, but I happen to like airplane travel…

No, I’m not a huge fan of screaming babies, recirculated air, or stale snack crackers. Nor do I like lengthy airport security lines, accusatory customs agents, or the way that my equipment cases get beaten, mauled, and abused by the TSA whenever I travel from city to city.

Nope, what I happen to like so much about airplane travel is that — each and every time I fly — that I always manage to walk about from the flight with at least two portable/foldable flash diffusers tucked away in my pockets.

Obviously, the airlines aren’t giving away flash diffusers on purpose (these days, the airlines are giving nothing away). Fortunately for us — as photographers — the airlines don’t even know that they’re giving away some of the most usable flash diffusers ever made. No, they haven’t cut a deal with LumiQuest, Sto-Fen, or Gary Fong… Nothing of the sort. You see, the reason that airlines don’t even realize that they’re giving away a valuable photographic tool is that they have another name for these awesome lil’ items.

The more common name for the fantastic foldable flash diffusers that can be found on every commercial flight is…

A barf bag


Yes, that’s right… Those cute lil’ white plastic bags that the airlines keep tucked away in the back of every seat are absolutely perfect for diffusing the harsh beam of a direct flash. Just one barf bag (a/k/a: “flight discomfort bag”) stuck onto the top of a flash head will mellow out the light dramatically — especially for more “close in” sort of work — and the way that light gets sprayed in all directions can really help in raising the overall brightness of a room and background.

Barf-Bag-Flash-DiffuserMyself, I usually keep about six of these portable diffusers stowed away in my kit bag (I fly a lot), and I’ve probably given away at least twice that many to other photographers who’ve asked just what sort of “fancy new equipment” it is that I’m using.

Are these barf bag diffusers an adequate substitute for more commercial (i.e.: expensive) devices? Honestly — under most circumstances — yes. They do the job, and they do the job well. They’re also cheap, portable, foldable, bendable, disposable and — should you happen to be feeling a bit sick — quite usable for another (less photographic) purpose.

Just a few things to take note of:

1) Do not take a bag that has been “used” by a previous airplane passenger.

2) Bags that are some color other than white are not really suitable for diffusing a flash.

3) Bags with lots of colored printing are also not suitable.

4) A few small tabs of tape (gaff tape, duct tape, scotch tape, whatever) will help to keep your diffuser attached to the flash

5) The bag/flash combo will attract other photographers to you like a moth to a flame. When they ask just what sort of diffuser it is that you’re using (and they will ask), please, tell the truth. They’ll either think that you’re a genius (most likely) or that you’re absolutely crazy and shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a camera. If they happen to think that you’re crazy — well — too bad for them. They’re missing out on a great and handy photographic tool.

Read more of Matthew’s writing at The Global Photographer.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Taryn

    LOL — loved this article. What a great idea!

  • Liam Cahill

    Brilliant… we should have more sections on DIY photography

  • http://sightings.loneroad.info/ AC

    This is one heck of an idea! Never thought of putting barf bags on a camera lens :D

  • Ben

    Great idea! I’m on a flight early tomorrow, can’t wait to try out a few…

  • Tim

    I’m not sure if the thickness is the same, but Target has been selling paper lunch bags in several colors- including white- for about a year now. They come in a package of 50 for about $3. Might be a much cheaper alternative than, say, booking a flight.

  • http://cylerparent.com Cyler

    That’s awesome. And it looks like it works well too, better than my stupid whale-tail.

  • Barney

    Brilliant idea. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://onecityatatime.wordpress.com kevin

    Years ago, I used a broken ping pong ball for my point and shoot, but lost it. It was a bit more dangerous, as the edges were kind of pointy.

  • Sinbad

    And don’t forget a big bag to put over your head because this thing here will make you look like a total douche.

  • Alex

    I m going to stock up next time i m going on a flight!

    I been sing Rizla papper for the past years and that sure does but its quite inconvient as you have to rip it of and throw away everytime you want to take it off!

  • http://www.adorama.com/learn Mason

    I never would have thought of tip #1 ;-)

  • Six Pixels

    Any ideas for diffusing a flash for a point and shoot camera?

  • http://www.klaidas.lt/ Klaidas

    Couldn’t colored bags be used as gels for a flash? (Regarding number 2 in the list)

  • http://rojojam.com disco~stu

    pure genius!

  • LarryD

    So I have to go spend $500 for a flight to get a barf bag now?

    What else can we use?

  • nekhrun

    What an idea? Eureka………

  • Darkwhorse

    Great idea. Can we see examples of your work with the barf bag camera? :)

  • javadog

    Great idea. I love tip #1 :)

  • Murthy,Abu Dhabi

    I use NikonD80. In flash mode,the camera fixes the settings accordingly. When I try to diffuse the flash, the photos are darker. Somebody can please guide me.

  • Bill

    Great article. It made me laugh and gives me something to play with. Thanks!

  • http://natalienortonphoto.com Natalie Norton

    OH.MY.GOSH! I am in love with this idea. I’m flying to Orange County Saturday for a shoot. . . you can count on the fact I’ll be filling my carry-on! Thanks so much for the ingenuity!

  • http://grazryan.multiply.com grazryan

    haha.. nice one.. y spend couple of
    buckz on a diffuser.. good idea..

  • http://www.lemonfree.com D Legal

    Great Idea! Now I need to go find myself a barf bag.

  • Curt

    The question was raised as to how to diffuse a point and shoot flash. If you cut a notch down the side of a ‘clear’ film canister (black and white film generally) you can slide it over your popup flash and it will diffuse relatively well. As for diffusing the corner-set flash, a ping pong ball (as stated by someone above) is effective but hard to attach easily.

  • Aton

    Learn from my mistakes……………use a new bag.

    I made one out of the handle of a gallon milk carton cut down and slit the long way. works well.

  • Aton

    CORRECTION: I said carton, I meant jug. My apologies.

  • http://el-cuatro.blogspot.com Edgar

    I just have to say “thank you very much”, this is pure genius.

  • Jay

    Thank you for this great idea. With this diffuser, would the flash head be kept straight (pointing up) or at an angle? Also, could you please share your experience with exposure compensation for the light fall off with the diffuser?

  • william rodriguez

    Well, I make it simpler. I place a couple of tissue paper over the flash when at close range to my subject. I do the same for point and shoot camers but use one tissue only.
    Play with it till you find how it works best for you.
    William.

  • http://stockphotoreview.blogspot.com/ Sam (Sam’s Stock photo review)

    Awesome idea!!! i especially liked note #1, very good advice… ;)

  • Mike

    What a fun article! This is a great idea. I’ve also seen Lubriderm bottles used for this. The airline sickness bag is so handy and portable. I had to be fancy and get the Gary Fong Lightsphere Cloud (sounds better than barf bag anyway), but I’m definitely going to carry a couple of these! (Ever try to get a Lightsphere in your bag?!)
    Great article. Do more like this!!!

  • Elmarie

    For those that does not fly that offen you can try out the notepads with the rough plastic coverpage. You can find then in different colours but I used the clear one. These works wonderful with the shoot and point camera.

  • neo

    In the immortal words of an old commercial
    BRILLIANT!

  • http://www.philippe-roy.com Philippe Roy

    I’ve read everything from toilet paper to cigarette packs for diffusers, but I gotta admit it’s the first time I hear about using the good old air-sick bag! Good one.

    …sometimes I just wish my clients would accept these ideas as genius and not as trying scrape an extra buck’o’two from their pockets!!

  • Cody

    Awesome Idea!

    My parents gave me that same flash, still haven’t figured out how to use the damn thing..

  • http://yellowwarbler.wordpress.com natalia

    Genius!

  • Gavin (pro wedding photographer)

    I have the Presslite Vertex, Gary Fong Lightsphere and the Demb Flip-it flash diffuser, and now I’ll be adding this device to my gear bag! :) Thanks!!

  • Randy

    I’ve often used a coffee filter.
    Easily portable and accessible.
    Just remember an elastic to attach it to your flash.

  • Malaysian

    You are absolutely right about the barf bag. I get even lighting every time. Something that I’ve been looking for. The best idea so far. You are a Genius!!

  • http://portfolio.krisvdv.net Kris

    Great tip! I’m gonna try this in a few weeks…

  • Trish

    Also, cut the foot off an infant sized set of opaque white tights….

  • Joe

    Gee…you do not even have to book a flight to get some of the “barf bags”…You can order them on line. Found some on Amazon for $20 for 20 bags. Now I have a supply :) Plan to use them then next time when I cannot use my umbrellas due to strong winds.

Some older comments

  • Joe

    June 2, 2013 03:57 am

    Gee...you do not even have to book a flight to get some of the "barf bags"...You can order them on line. Found some on Amazon for $20 for 20 bags. Now I have a supply :) Plan to use them then next time when I cannot use my umbrellas due to strong winds.

  • Trish

    October 20, 2011 04:06 pm

    Also, cut the foot off an infant sized set of opaque white tights....

  • Kris

    August 24, 2010 09:20 pm

    Great tip! I'm gonna try this in a few weeks...

  • Malaysian

    October 3, 2009 01:08 am

    You are absolutely right about the barf bag. I get even lighting every time. Something that I've been looking for. The best idea so far. You are a Genius!!

  • Randy

    August 25, 2009 12:58 pm

    I've often used a coffee filter.
    Easily portable and accessible.
    Just remember an elastic to attach it to your flash.

  • Gavin (pro wedding photographer)

    April 28, 2009 10:58 am

    I have the Presslite Vertex, Gary Fong Lightsphere and the Demb Flip-it flash diffuser, and now I'll be adding this device to my gear bag! :) Thanks!!

  • natalia

    February 8, 2009 02:18 am

    Genius!

  • Cody

    April 11, 2008 01:19 pm

    Awesome Idea!

    My parents gave me that same flash, still haven't figured out how to use the damn thing..

  • Philippe Roy

    March 31, 2008 11:03 pm

    I've read everything from toilet paper to cigarette packs for diffusers, but I gotta admit it's the first time I hear about using the good old air-sick bag! Good one.

    ...sometimes I just wish my clients would accept these ideas as genius and not as trying scrape an extra buck'o'two from their pockets!!

  • neo

    March 31, 2008 05:35 am

    In the immortal words of an old commercial
    BRILLIANT!

  • Elmarie

    March 28, 2008 04:21 pm

    For those that does not fly that offen you can try out the notepads with the rough plastic coverpage. You can find then in different colours but I used the clear one. These works wonderful with the shoot and point camera.

  • Mike

    March 28, 2008 08:24 am

    What a fun article! This is a great idea. I've also seen Lubriderm bottles used for this. The airline sickness bag is so handy and portable. I had to be fancy and get the Gary Fong Lightsphere Cloud (sounds better than barf bag anyway), but I'm definitely going to carry a couple of these! (Ever try to get a Lightsphere in your bag?!)
    Great article. Do more like this!!!

  • Sam (Sam's Stock photo review)

    March 28, 2008 07:07 am

    Awesome idea!!! i especially liked note #1, very good advice... ;)

  • william rodriguez

    March 28, 2008 05:29 am

    Well, I make it simpler. I place a couple of tissue paper over the flash when at close range to my subject. I do the same for point and shoot camers but use one tissue only.
    Play with it till you find how it works best for you.
    William.

  • Jay

    March 28, 2008 02:58 am

    Thank you for this great idea. With this diffuser, would the flash head be kept straight (pointing up) or at an angle? Also, could you please share your experience with exposure compensation for the light fall off with the diffuser?

  • Edgar

    March 28, 2008 12:30 am

    I just have to say "thank you very much", this is pure genius.

  • Aton

    March 27, 2008 10:52 pm

    CORRECTION: I said carton, I meant jug. My apologies.

  • Aton

    March 27, 2008 10:51 pm

    Learn from my mistakes...............use a new bag.

    I made one out of the handle of a gallon milk carton cut down and slit the long way. works well.

  • Curt

    March 24, 2008 04:51 pm

    The question was raised as to how to diffuse a point and shoot flash. If you cut a notch down the side of a 'clear' film canister (black and white film generally) you can slide it over your popup flash and it will diffuse relatively well. As for diffusing the corner-set flash, a ping pong ball (as stated by someone above) is effective but hard to attach easily.

  • D Legal

    March 23, 2008 10:15 am

    Great Idea! Now I need to go find myself a barf bag.

  • grazryan

    March 22, 2008 03:09 am

    haha.. nice one.. y spend couple of
    buckz on a diffuser.. good idea..

  • Natalie Norton

    March 21, 2008 04:00 pm

    OH.MY.GOSH! I am in love with this idea. I'm flying to Orange County Saturday for a shoot. . . you can count on the fact I'll be filling my carry-on! Thanks so much for the ingenuity!

  • Bill

    March 21, 2008 09:21 am

    Great article. It made me laugh and gives me something to play with. Thanks!

  • Murthy,Abu Dhabi

    March 21, 2008 03:11 am

    I use NikonD80. In flash mode,the camera fixes the settings accordingly. When I try to diffuse the flash, the photos are darker. Somebody can please guide me.

  • javadog

    March 21, 2008 03:06 am

    Great idea. I love tip #1 :)

  • Darkwhorse

    March 21, 2008 02:20 am

    Great idea. Can we see examples of your work with the barf bag camera? :)

  • nekhrun

    March 21, 2008 12:48 am

    What an idea? Eureka.........

  • LarryD

    March 20, 2008 11:52 pm

    So I have to go spend $500 for a flight to get a barf bag now?

    What else can we use?

  • disco~stu

    March 20, 2008 11:51 pm

    pure genius!

  • Klaidas

    March 20, 2008 11:49 pm

    Couldn't colored bags be used as gels for a flash? (Regarding number 2 in the list)

  • Six Pixels

    March 20, 2008 11:00 pm

    Any ideas for diffusing a flash for a point and shoot camera?

  • Mason

    March 20, 2008 10:29 pm

    I never would have thought of tip #1 ;-)

  • Alex

    March 20, 2008 08:22 pm

    I m going to stock up next time i m going on a flight!

    I been sing Rizla papper for the past years and that sure does but its quite inconvient as you have to rip it of and throw away everytime you want to take it off!

  • Sinbad

    March 20, 2008 02:07 pm

    And don't forget a big bag to put over your head because this thing here will make you look like a total douche.

  • kevin

    March 20, 2008 12:41 pm

    Years ago, I used a broken ping pong ball for my point and shoot, but lost it. It was a bit more dangerous, as the edges were kind of pointy.

  • Barney

    March 20, 2008 08:52 am

    Brilliant idea. Thanks for sharing.

  • Cyler

    March 20, 2008 05:27 am

    That's awesome. And it looks like it works well too, better than my stupid whale-tail.

  • Tim

    March 20, 2008 03:08 am

    I'm not sure if the thickness is the same, but Target has been selling paper lunch bags in several colors- including white- for about a year now. They come in a package of 50 for about $3. Might be a much cheaper alternative than, say, booking a flight.

  • Ben

    March 20, 2008 02:23 am

    Great idea! I'm on a flight early tomorrow, can't wait to try out a few...

  • AC

    March 20, 2008 01:09 am

    This is one heck of an idea! Never thought of putting barf bags on a camera lens :D

  • Liam Cahill

    March 20, 2008 01:07 am

    Brilliant... we should have more sections on DIY photography

  • Taryn

    March 20, 2008 12:13 am

    LOL -- loved this article. What a great idea!

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